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The Shwagman Cometh

The Shwagmen of Powelton Park were a shady bunch of high school kids who became entirely too familiar with me, my housemates, and our humble home. The most central character was a 17-year-old named Montana, a handsome kid with no concept of private...

The quality of weed that I require has gone up since I started smoking. As my taste and tolerance rose in unison, I made more of an effort to fill my medicine jar with the best of what I could afford. It's been a steady upward trend over the last 12 years or so, save for one exception.

I went to college in North Philly, and while dorm life guaranteed 24-hour access to weed without even the need for a cell phone, I moved off campus my second year and became less a student at my school and more a citizen of the city. No longer could I knock on a door down the hall and expect some outstanding specimen of white trash to sling me a dub of some decent nugs. Suddenly, my selectiveness took a backseat to sheer necessity. In my first off-campus home in University City, we relied on nickel and dime salespeople, or as we called them, Shwagmen.


The Shwagmen of Powelton Park were a shady bunch of high school kids, greeting me with their asalaamalaikums and soon becoming entirely too familiar with me, my housemates, and our humble home. The most central character was a 17-year-old named Montana, a handsome kid with no concept of private space and a penchant for what I found to be exceedingly ugly girls. One morning I emerged from my bedroom to find Montana easing on the couch, smoking a blunt with a grizzly looking guy, who I greeted with a hearty “What’s good dude!?” Upon closer inspection, I saw that this was no dude, but not quite a lady either. This was some kind of androgyne hardened by a street-oriented upbringing who was slovenly ripping hits on my couch and eating an instant-noodles cup that looked a lot like the ones my mom had send me in a care package. This was unacceptable. Using our spot for a before-school smoke sesh was one thing, but instant food was a valuable resource.

I asked Montana not to come by anymore unless we needed something from him, which upset him enough that he referred us to one of his (thankfully less intrusive) colleagues named Omar. We had a brief and uneventful run with Omar before I moved to a house near campus in North Philly and found myself in need of a Shwagman.

The neighborhood I lived in was uncharacteristically clean for North Philly, and my housemates and I spent the first month or so trekking to other areas to get nickel bags. Before long, we were approached by a man who we’d seen skulking around the neighborhood. A bit older than high school age, Malik introduced himself as our neighbor, a circumstance that made us eligible for his daily special, three for ten. Buy two get one free!? Our shwag-smoking days had entered its renaissance.


Malik was on point and on time, every time. Before long, the consistency of our hookup for shitty weed had beckoned all of our homeys, turning my house into the afternoon spot everyday of the week, 40s of Private Stock from the beer shop and blunts filled by our favorite local merchant, who we’d taken to calling Philip Shwagman.

We didn’t go out much that year. The only thing a couple of 40s and blunts leaves you with the desire for is more blunts and Crown Fried Chicken. Our Ikea coffee table, clean and white just a few months before, was littered with the remains of these consumables, most notably a piece of tinfoil fashioned into a bowl filled with shwag seeds. Usually, about a quarter of each nickel bag’s weight was seeds and stems and the rest was the crumbly, mild-smelling plant matter that we gleefully stuffed into green dutch skins. Being used to this garbage, we managed to get exceptionally stoned every time we crossed paths with a hippie and could afford his far superior product. We had just arrived home with such a score when Malik swung by on a courtesy call. At this moment, we needed nothing from Mr. Shawgman, but the neighborly thing to do was to invite him to try this different product. We broke out a few different glass pipes, all of which Malik referred to as "bongs." After we’d explained the mechanics to him, he pulled a couple of fat hits off one of our "bongs" and an exasperated look quickly crossed his face just before he hurried out.


We were enjoying the last bits of our treasure when Malik came back around to the house, sober but looking like he’d just had a bad experience on edibles. He asked incredulously, “How you smoke that? That shit is way too strong.” Malik explained that he likes to smoke throughout the day, and that there’s no way he could maintain that regimen if he was smoking the shit we had. He thanked us for helping him affirm his preference and left us to discuss the nuances of weed quality.

We smoked shwag because it fit our budget, and we relished any opportunity to step up our game, but here was a guy to whom the entire ceremony of smoking involved volume. Blunts all day, every day. After about a year of Malik’s supply, I started managing enough cash flow to buy hippie weed on the reg. Before long, I was in New York, where I wouldn’t be able to find a Shwagman if I wanted one. With all the access I have to excellent bud, I find myself reminiscing about those days and wanting to smoke a fat L of some straight-up trash. I especially wonder how many hits I’d have to take before realizing that I stopped smoking it for good reason.

Trust me, as soon as I get my hands on some shwag, I’ll roll it in a green dutch, smoke it, and tell you exactly how I feel about it.


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